Airline meal

From ArticleWorld

Airline meals, while the butt of many jokes about 'mystery meat' and 'cardboard potatoes', are an essential part of the travel industry, food history and travel experiences. Meals on-board, whether sandwiches or multicourse gourmet efforts, are thought to tip the balance between an unexceptional flight and a good or bad one. Airline catering is a fast-growing multi-million-dollar industry as more people travel by air, and when the airline industry is experiencing a downswing, food and beverages are the first area of budget cuts.


From dining tables to a bag of peanuts

In the late 1920s, the early days of air travel, the benchmark for travel experiences was sea travel, and so food service on airplanes closely resembled that on the seas. There were hot, multicourse meals virtually cooked in the air and passengers sat at dining tables to eat. As the volume of air traffic increased, much food was pre-made, plated, and kept warm, and only served on the plane. Not quite in this league, but evocative of the newness of air travel is M.F.K. Fisher's description of a sandwich meal re-assembled on a flight to Mexico in The Gastronomical Me.

Today on some budget airlines nothing, not even water, is included in the price of the ticket, though drinks, sandwiches and other snacks are available for purchase. Long-haul flights, however, always include a meal, or a meal every three hours, mimicking, as Margaret Visser writes, the rhythms of normal eating – breakfast-snack-lunch-snack-dinner-snack. A standard full meal on an airplane starts with an apéritif' and bag of small pretzels or nuts. Then comes the loaded tray with a salad component, a hot main course including meat, seafood or vegetarian option, vegetables and pasta, potato, or rice, rolls and butter, condiments from mustard to hot Asian pickles, and a dessert such as custard and/ or fresh fruit. The meal ends with coffee or tea, and on some airlines cheese and crackers. Breakfast is some kind of bread or pastry or eggs and bacon or potatoes.

Variety in airline food

The food in Economy Class generally compares unfavorably with that in Business or First Class, where an airline may spend up to six times more per meal, and serve it on top-quality cutlery and china. Some airlines, such as Cathay Pacific, Qatar Airways, and Thai Airlines are known for the excellent, fresh, hot food and choice of beverages served even in economy or coach class, while others like Singapore Airlines serve five-star meals in First Class. Air New Zealand in particular is known for its fine selection of wines paired with fresh, innovative and tansy food.

Nearly all international flights offer a range of meal choices, such as fat-free, low-carb, Kosher, vegan, Indian, no-salt etc. Short international and domestic flights sometimes include a sandwich in the price of the ticket.

Taste up high

Food really does taste different on airplanes and it isn't only because of cheap materials and sloppy preparation. In addition to maintaining high levels of hygiene and food safety, airline caterers must create meals that will taste good at 10,000 m and on being reheated six hours after preparation and freezing. At ground-level, good airline meals are almost overwhelmingly flavored, so the question is what happens to them in the air. The impact on a person's sinuses and therefore taste buds at high altitude, even in pressurized cabins, is being researched, and is thought to have a lot to do with the perceived lack of taste of airline food.

Some of the fear and annoyance of airline food has nothing to do with its perceived blandness, but with the post-11 September discussion about metal knives, their being banned, their reintroduction etc.

Love and hate

The millions of people who fly frequently for business or pleasure have a serious interest in airline food, whether they love it or hate it, as is evidenced by